Environmental impact of coal mining and coal seam gas production on surface water quality in the Sydney basin, Australia

A. Ali*, V. Strezov, P. Davies, I. Wright

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    43 Citations (Scopus)


    The extraction of coal and coal seam gas (CSG) will generate produced water that, if not adequately treated, will pollute surface and groundwater systems. In Australia, the discharge of produced water from coal mining and related activities is regulated by the state environment agency through a pollution licence. This licence sets the discharge limits for a range of analytes to protect the environment into which the produced water is discharged. This study reports on the impact of produced water from coal mine activities located within or discharging into high conservation environments, such as National Parks, in the outer region of Sydney, Australia. The water samples upstream and downstream from the discharge points from six mines were taken, and 110 parameters were tested. The results were assessed against a water quality index (WQI) which accounts for pH, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, biochemical oxygen demand, total dissolved solids, total phosphorus, nitrate nitrogen and E.coli. The water quality assessment based on the trace metal contents against various national maximum admissible concentration (MAC) and their corresponding environmental impacts was also included in the study which also established a base value of water quality for further study. The study revealed that impacted water downstream of the mine discharge points contained higher metal content than the upstream reference locations. In many cases, the downstream water was above the Australia and New Zealand Environment Conservation Council and international water quality guidelines for freshwater stream. The major outliers to the guidelines were aluminium (Al), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), nickel (Ni) and zinc (Zn). The WQI of surface water at and downstream of the discharge point was lower when compared to upstream or reference conditions in the majority of cases. Toxicology indices of metals present in industrial discharges were used as an additional tool to assess water quality, and the newly proposed environmental water quality index (EWQI) lead to better trend in the impact of coal and coal seam gas mining activities on surface water quality when compared to the upstream reference water samples. Metal content limits were based on the impact points assigned by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, USA. For environmental and health impact assessment, the approach used in this study can be applied as a model to provide a basis to assess the anthropogenic contribution from the industrial and mining activities on the environment.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number408
    Pages (from-to)1-16
    Number of pages16
    JournalEnvironmental Monitoring and Assessment
    Issue number8
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017


    • water quality index
    • coal mine
    • coal seam gas
    • environmental impact
    • surface water


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